Speaking volumes

Leakage of fire suppression agents from firefighting systems remains an ongoing, complex problem, and one that is often incorrectly attributed to system failure. OMT speaks to Coltraco Ultrasonics about the extent of such incidents and the solutions developed by Coltraco to combat undetected leakage

The offshore sector may still be mired in recession at present, but the need to retain a vigilant eye on fire safety remains as vital as ever.
To some degree, offshore oil and gas companies are still haunted by the blaze and explosion that destroyed the Piper Alpha oil production platform in July 1988, causing the deaths of more than 160 personnel aboard the structure – a tragedy that resulted in some much-welcomed ‘toughening up’ of offshore safety requirements.

All the same, fire-related incidents still occur aboard many offshore assets, putting the burden on owners and operators to ensure that safety standards do not slip. This burden becomes more onerous when one considers that the majority of offshore companies are scaling back their budgets at present, as well as warm-stacking and cold-stacking some of their most valuable vessels and rigs.

However, companies have a duty to ensure the protection of personnel, as well as a natural incentive to safeguard some of the most expensive assets to be stationed at sea – as well as their own reputations – and fire safety is a factor that simply cannot be neglected. This is not purely a problem for the offshore sector: a study conducted by the Finnish Transport Safety Agency has revealed that, between 2004 and 2010, 800 fires were logged in European waters, approximately 10% of which were classed as ‘serious’ and 25% of which required external assistance to successfully extinguish.
Part of this issue is to do with the maintenance of gaseous fire extinguishing installations. Typically, an offshore rig or platform will be equipped with a number of these installations, a typical 45Kg C02 cylinder measures 1800mm in height and 250mm in width. The number will be determined between the asset owner and the contracted firefighting system provider, and be tailored to the specific vessel area.

As such, the fire extinguishing installation may either contain CO₂ - which, as an oxygen-suppressing substance, is suited to unmanned areas aboard the vessel/platform, including machinery spaces – or FM-200® or Novec ™ 1230.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for gaseous extinguishing agent to leak from these cylinders. “This is to be expected when such firefighting equipment is stored on land, let alone aboard a vessel for 365 days a year.

The result? A depleted cylinder, containing only half of its allocated agent, runs out of the substance before the fire is properly suppressed. Subsequently, the fire rages on, destroys the area and possibly spreads to other sections of the vessel – or even produces an explosion. Later, in the post-incident analysis, the cylinder is incorrectly judged as to have ‘failed’.

two particular tools specifically for this purpose: the PortalevelÒ MAX Marine and the PortasteeleÒ Calculator application. Used in conjunction by a single person, Hunter claims, these two products can enable crew to identify a leaking cylinder (or one that has previously leaked agent) within as little as 30 seconds.

The first step is to place the Portalevel MAX Marine against the side of the cylinder. This andheld unit fits in the palm of the hand monitor pings an ultrasonic signal into the cylinder, which allows the user to “pinpoint the liquid level of suppressant agent”, Hunter says. In this way, the liquid level height has been obtained under 30 seconds for a competent user.

However, it is not a given that the user will know how to convert this figure to determine the weight and mass of the extinguishing agent – nor that they will have the time to sit down and manually calculate hundreds of such readings. The second step, then, is to feed the data captured by the Portalevel MAX Marine into the Portasteele® Calculator app. The app is installed on a  ruggedised 7” tablet. The user inputs information related to: the extinguishing agent type [ie, CO2, FM 200 fire suppression system, etc]; the cylinder dimensions; the temperature of the agent; and the liquid level height. The Portasteele® app then instantly provides the agent’s weight.

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